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Nursing grievances

Lifestyle | Battles over breastfeeding in public bring controversy to an ageless and tender practice

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

Breastfeeding mothers versus those offended by the sight of a baby suckling in public: Two recent contretemps received attention. In June near Chicago, a storeowner told a mom to stop nursing her baby in a resale shop, or leave. In July in Detroit, Afrykayn Moon, 32, was nursing her 3-week-old baby as she boarded a public bus. The female driver told Moon to cover up or get off. Moon told the Detroit Free Press, "'I had him in a football wrap. . . . She wasn't seeing much.'" Nonetheless, the driver refused to drive until Moon had finished feeding the baby.

Both incidents led to "nurse-ins," sit-in type gatherings of nursing moms outside the place where the confrontation occurred. Their message: You were embarrassed by the flash of one breast, so we will humiliate you by flashing dozens. Last year a nurse-in at a Glendale, Ariz., McDonald's came after a manager asked a breastfeeding mother to leave. This February, 100 parents and babies showed up for a nurse-in at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., after a security guard asked a breastfeeding mother to move to a restroom.

All this acrimony is happening at a time of growing social and legal support for breastfeeding. In January, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin issued a "call to action to support breastfeeding," citing statistics meant to galvanize people to act: About 75 percent of new mothers try to breastfeed. Six months later only 43 percent of moms breastfeed (only 13 percent exclusively). She outlined barriers and highlighted health and economic benefits for families, companies, and the nation.

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States have passed laws to support breastfeeding. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 45 states, plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, permit breastfeeding in all public and private locations. Some states also protect breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Others require employers to facilitate breastfeeding at work-as does the new healthcare law. Some local jurisdictions haven't climbed on board: Forest Park, Ga., recently passed a public indecency ordinance that bans mothers from breastfeeding "anyone older than 2 years old in public," but it seems to be in the minority.

Does breastfeeding show the limits of the law to change behavior? Apparently the law doesn't give some people the good sense to avert their eyes from a sight they find offensive. Law also doesn't give some mothers the sense to cover up or turn the other cheek. Mothers have been nursing babies for thousands of years, but leave it to our litigious society to turn one of the most tender and calming human experiences into a field of strife.

Maci and Bentley

By Susan Olasky

Maci and Bentley (Associated Press/MTV)

Babynamewizard.com is a fascinating place to explore trends in baby names. Website founder Laura Wattenberg wrote recently, "Remember the Freakonomics theory that baby names 'trickle down' the economic ladder, as strivers try to emulate the upper classes? I wonder how they'd account for the fact that an unwed pregnant teenager from Chattanooga, Tenn., is America's top baby name stylemaker." Wattenberg went on to note that Maci, the name belonging to the reality star of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, was the fastest-rising girl's baby name in 2010. Her son's name, Bentley, was the fastest-rising boy's name.

Romance rivals

By Susan Olasky

Does reading romance fiction make women unhappy in relationships? An article on London's The Guardian website noted that several female psychologists recently asked that question. Susan Quilliam in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health wrote that some women read as many as 30 books of that sort a month: "Sometimes t he kindest and wisest thing we can do for our clients is to encourage them to put down the books-and pick up reality." She also quoted psychologist Juli Slattery: "For many women, these novels really do promote dissatisfaction with their real relationships."

The Guardian story didn't take the psychologists' concerns seriously. Instead it quoted at length the defensive and sarcastic reactions of romance writers and readers. The debate even reached Twitter, where crime writer Jason Pinter started the satirical hashtag #romancekills and encouraged the genre's fans and writers to join in. They responded with tweets blaming romance novels for everything from the Black Death to the sinking of the Titanic.

Dead girls

By Susan Olasky

Photo by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

Mara Hvistendahl's "Where Have All the Girls Gone?" in the June 27 issue of Foreign Policy tells a sad story. After World War II, Western policymakers concerned about overpopulation were stumped over how to get poor women in the developing world to have fewer children. They knew that religious and cultural pressures encouraged women to have children until they had a son. Wouldn't it be great if science could grant a son right away? No need for all those extra daughters. Since scientists never developed a way to guarantee the gender of a baby pre-conception, they turned their attention to determining the sex of a baby pre-abortion.

Hvistendahl, although not pro-life, is honest enough to admit that the legacy left by these population controllers, including Planned Parenthood, has made sex selection abortion more acceptable in places like South Korea and India than it otherwise would be. We now see evils-extreme gender imbalances and sex trafficking-flowing from these policies.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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